The first Dance Central showed the world what Kinect could really do. With realistic dance recognition, a good library of songs, and great gesture controls, it was the launch title to get. The only problem? Multiplayer was limited to Dance Battles in which players awkwardly took turns performing parts of a song. With another year of development time, Dance Central 2 steps it up with proper multiplayer, a lil’ story mode, and even more songs to dance with.
In case you are new to the wonders of Kinect, the Dance Central games are honest-to-goodness dancing simulators with some videogaming elements thrown on top. Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution and Dance Masters are simple rhythm games that involve some dance-like steps, and Just Dance 3 is more focused on moving around and being silly than perfecting steps. Those games may be fun for what they are, but Dance Central 2 is the for real deal – every song has genuine dance moves that players need to learn and bust out in order to succeed. The higher the difficulty, the more moves to perform.
Two visual cues indicate which steps to take. First off, dance cards scroll up the side of the screen, displaying a drawing of each move and its name. Their main benefit is communicating what moves are coming up next. But they’re difficult to rely on entirely because the drawings don’t always represent every part of a move, plus they sometimes scroll by too quickly to read easily. The on-screen dancers are more useful for dancing on the fly. As they perform each move, it’s your job to imitate them as closely as possible. If part of the dancer’s body glows with a red outline, that part of the player’s body is out of alignment.
The dancing in DC2 works just like it did before, but with some extra flourishes. The on-screen dancers’ limbs glow with motion blur as they strut their stuff, making it easier to focus on what parts of your body need to be movin’. Also new are yellow dance cards. When one of these pops up between the regular dance cards, the move is worth four times as many points as normal. I like how they make certain moves more critical than others.
The Dance Central games are serious dance simulators, which means they can be seriously difficult at times. When you’ve got friends over for co-op or competitive dancing, they’re not going to want to learn the moves before they start playing. Thankfully Easy difficulty is simple and forgiving enough that failing won’t be a concern; I usually earned four- and five-star ratings on my first attempts. Normal and especially Hard difficulties require much more coordination and practice, though.
Break it Down is where you’ll go to learn those tough routines - at your own pace and without fear of failing. As you try to perform each move three times, the narrator provides audio cues to help you pick it up. DC2 significantly improves on the original Break it Down mode by letting you focus on specific moves instead of tackling all of them in linear order. You can also jump back and forth between moves at any time. Slowing down moves to learn their finer points is easier than ever thanks to voice controls… when they work. More on that in a bit.
The first Dance Central consisted solely of picking songs from a menu with no metagame to tie everything together. The lack of motivation kept me from coming back to it as much as I should've. In DC2, you can still dance one song at a time by picking Dance from the main menu, and even make playlists if you like. But the sequel really ups the ante with Crew Challenge, an honest-to-goodness story mode. Here players take on the role of an up-and-coming dancer. In order to rise through the ranks, you’ll need to impress each of the game’s five-ish dance crews by performing several of that crew’s routines (songs). You can get by with as few as five songs per crew or put your back into it and do all nine of their songs for the associated Achievements.
For the most part, there’s not much of a story other than the crews introducing themselves and congratulating you when you complete their Final Challenges. But beat the fifth crew, the Euro-snob Glitterati, and you’ll learn that someone's been pulling the strings behind the scenes. This leads to a climactic final challenge that you should not allow anyone to spoil for you. I loved the structure of Crew Challenge mode and look forward to tackling the higher difficulties some day.